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Thomas TaylorEnlarge image

Thomas Taylor, c. 1812

Thomas Lawrence
British, 1769 - 1830
oil on canvas
125.1 x 99.7 cm
Purchased 1912
National Gallery of Canada (no. 354)

Called “Taylor the Platonist” or “Taylor the Pagan” by his contemporaries, Thomas Taylor (1758-1835) was a scholar of ancient Greek philosophy who stirred controversy with his rejection of intellectual and religious conventions. Taylor’s interest in the mystical elements of Platonism - a particularly Romantic fixation - came to influence intellectuals in Britain and America. Sir Thomas Lawrence was the leading portrait painter in Britain, his only rival being John Hoppner. Lawrence seems to effortlessly capture the sheen of surfaces and the play of light on flesh, cloth and paper. The painting’s format is traditional, the sitter surrounded by signs of his status and interests. The column and drapery in the back are standard props; during the course of painting, Lawrence subtly shifted their placement to win space for the view of the Acropolis in Athens, a motif personal to Taylor. As the paint has aged, the changes have become visible.

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